NORTH-EAST manufacturers have been bolstered by record exports, a report has claimed.

The North East Chamber of Commerce (NECC) says companies are taking on more workers and increasing investment after a surge in foreign market trade.

The NECC's Quarterly Economic Survey says orders, sales and exports are at unprecedented levels.

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The results come as Export Week starts today (Monday, April 7), aiming to help companies increase overseas business.

According to the survey, the last quarter of 2013 returned the best set of results since 2003.

Bosses said the levels were not matched in the first quarter of 2014, but added confidence levels remain extremely high.

Mark Stephenson, NECC policy and research manager, said the manufacturing sector is buoyant.

He said: “It is always good to start the year on a positive note and these export figures are particularly good news at the start of Export Week.

“To achieve the best ever figures for export sales and orders for manufacturing companies is a real cause for celebration.

“We saw that 2013 provided the foundations for economic growth and the last two quarters prove that business remains at the forefront of the recovery.

“Taken against last year’s figures, expectations are markedly stronger.

“Future workforce intentions are a real stand-out and have grown on the last quarter, and businesses are looking to hire.

“The dip in some of the key indicators compared to the previous quarter was perhaps to be expected owing to the particularly strong feedback that was received last time.

“Placing these into the context of the annual comparison illustrates that underlying growth is still very strong and that, looking back 12 months, North-East businesses have come a long way.”

One company feeling the benefit of the rising confidence is family-run thermal imaging firm Solo-Ti, based in Darlington.

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The company makes and supplies equipment for customers including the White House, Nasa and Chelsea FC's billionaire owner Roman Abramovich.

It also supplies thermal imaging helmets and cameras to the Costa and Mariotti shipyards, with its fire protection helmets standard equipment on Cunard's Queen Elizabeth, Queen Mary 2 and Queen Victoria lines, as well as P&O and Seabourn vessels.

Victoria McLaren, managing director, who runs the business with brother James Brooks, said: “It’s fair to say that 2012 was a slow year for us.

“However, things have improved significantly and we have seen real growth across our cruise market over the last 12 months, along with the Middle-East, which bodes well for our future.”